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Trip log: Antarctic Cruise Adventure: A changing landscape

10 - 22 December 2021

10-11 December 2021 | Buenos Aires

The guests were delighted to arrive in Buenos Aires. For many of them, it was the first time travelling internationally in the last two years.

Most of the guests had arrived the previous day, pampered by the warm hospitality of The Park Hyatt. Later at the welcome reception, several members of the A&K expedition team were introduced. The remainder of the expedition team would await our arrival in Ushuaia.

The following morning, guests enjoyed time at leisure to explore the avenues and flowering Jacaranda trees of Buenos Aires.

Later in the afternoon, the guests split up into two groups, one group taking in the city highlights along with a tango demonstration, the other exploring the significance of Buenos Aires’ world-renowned graffiti scene. Highlights of the day’s explorations included a historic home concealing a subterranean warren of tunnels, cisterns and canals.

In the evening, the guests retired to rest for the next day’s early charter flight to Ushuaia where Le Lyrial awaited its next journey to the White Continent.

12 December 2021 | Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Le Lyrial

The morning began an exciting day for all embarking on this unique voyage. We woke early to catch our three-hour flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia. We touched down in our port of disembarkation, a coastal enclave set against the stunning backdrop of Tierra del Fuego’s snow-capped peaks and forested valleys.

Lunch was enjoyed at the Arakur Hotel, our contemporary luxury resort set high on a promontory overlooking Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and the mountains of Chile beyond. Afterward, many guests enjoyed a guided hike into the beech forests behind the hotel. Then, we boarded our coaches for the port where we boarded our luxury expedition cruiser, Le Lyrial, a modern, fast, stabilised vessel ideally suited for this type of journey.

The A&K expedition team greeted us as we boarded and showed us to our respective staterooms. As food and drinks were served in the main lounge on deck three, the sense of excitement among the guests was palpable.

Ushuaia was bathed in sunshine as we ran through the routine safety drill. We then gathered to meet the cruise director and other members of the expedition team. Later, we enjoyed an elegant welcome dinner served aboard. This cruise promises to be an extraordinary adventure.

13 December 2021 | Drake Passage, Le Lyrial

Strong westerly winds and swells topping out at four metres marked relatively calm conditions by Drake Passage standards as we found our sea legs during the parka exchange.

We settled in for a series of lectures from the A&K expedition team. Ornithologist Patri Silva gave a wonderful presentation on the seabirds of the Southern Ocean, joining other naturalists on the outer decks to identify seabirds afterward. Next, photography coach Michelle Valberg shared tips on creativity and composition. Her images adorn Canadian stamps, banknotes and even airplane tails in her homeland.

After lunch, marine biologist Rich Pagen shared a presentation on the seals of Antarctica, which he calls Whiskers, Blubber and General Lounging Around. Rich and the other naturalists were once again out on deck this afternoon, showing guests the seabirds. Finally, Dr Reed Scherer presented his piece, Climate and Ice Sheets-Past, Present and Future, stoking the guests’ excitement to spot their first iceberg.

Later, captain Julien Duroussy welcomed the guests and introduced his senior officers during the captain's welcome dinner, capping off a fine day at sea.

14 December 2021 | Drake Passage, Le Lyrial

Whale fluke

After continued heavy seas throughout the evening, the ocean calmed in the morning as snow fell throughout the course of the day.

Professor Jim McClintock kicked off the day’s lectures with a talk on the impact of rapid climate change on the Antarctic Peninsula. Jim was lead scientist for many years at the Palmer Station (USA), and indeed continues to work very closely on matters of marine ecology in these parts.

Expedition director Suzana Machado D'Oliveira gave all guests the mandatory zodiac briefing, followed by expedition leader Marco Favero explaining the guidelines of IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) for any guests visiting Antarctica.

Mid-afternoon, ornithologist Patri Silva Favero, gave a marvellous presentation on penguins, her love of these creatures infectious, as always.

Despite the high winds, the first icebergs were spotted, earning one lucky couple a bottle of good French champagne. The afternoon’s wild weather added to the atmosphere as storyteller Rob spoke about Amundsen’s Antarctic exploits.

At recaps, Rich Pagen shared details about the Antarctic Convergence Zone, Marco Favero outlined plans for Neko Harbour and the Cuverville Island landing scheduled for tomorrow. After dinner, we retired in anticipation of the adventures to come.

15 December 2021 | Neko Harbour, Cuverville Island, Le Lyrial

After a night of rough weather, Marco and JJ led a morning scouting party of Neko Harbour, finding that high winds, an unfavourable tide and icy shore conditions would make our landing an unsafe proposition. Ever adaptable, the expedition team arranged a zodiac tour in the protection of Screen Cove. The guests loved being out in zodiacs among the ice and surrounding mountains. We were excited to spot a Weddell seal, gentoo penguins and various bird species.

Over lunchtime, the Antarctic scenery was spectacular as Le Lyrial sailed to Cuverville Island at the northern end of the beautiful Errera Channel. The wind abated as we rode the zodiacs into a bay choked with icebergs. The expedition team cut steps into the shore, facilitating the guests first Antarctic landing. Many of the guests celebrated this momentous occasion by standing in awe of the full majesty of this magical place, while others joyously slid down a hill in deep snow. The zodiac drivers took the guests on a Zodiac detour back to the ship, via the numerous icebergs in the bay.

At recaps, JD Massyn explained the formation stages of sea ice, from frazil through greasy, to pancake and eventually sea ice. We heard about bergy bits (one to five metres above water line), and growlers (less than one metre above water line). Icebergs are generally higher than five metres above water line, bearing in mind that roughly 80 per cent of an iceberg in underwater. Russ Manning capped off the night, discussing the happywhale.com website and Citizen Science Project.

In considerably calmer seas than those of the past 48 hours, we made our way towards Astralobe Island overnight.

16 December 2021 | Le Lyrial

We woke to high winds, which tabled our planned zodiac tour of Astralobe Island. This was moot, however, as an unforeseen guest medivac necessitated that we change course for an airstrip on King George Island. The captain, crew and expedition team pride themselves on doing whatever it takes for guest safety, a point proven by the morning’s adaptive and decisive change of plan.

Later, photography coach Michelle shared tips on being less reliant on our cameras’ auto settings, giving us insights into aperture and shutter speeds, the nuances of changing the ISO, and the importance of experimentation and practice.

After lunch, climate and ecology expert, Dr Reed Scherer presented a lecture on fossils and ice sheet behaviour. Reed has brought members of his university community along, lending a welcome and enthusiastic addition to the expedition.

Next, Dr Jim McClintock discussed the scientific experiments around Palmer Station, including diving operations, and the search for chemicals that have led to promising skin cancer and influenza treatments.

Later in the evening, guests gathered to sample some special Iberian ham in the main lounge. We then entered Maxwell Bay en route to an airstrip on King George Island for the guest medivac. After 18 hours of good going in heavy seas, the captain, crew and expedition team have proved their adaptability once again. 

17 December 2021 | Le Lyrial

We awoke to the bright sunshine, calm seas and breathtaking scenery of the 48-kilometre-long Antarctic Sound. Known to many as Iceberg Alley, the sound is full of large icebergs, and plenty of bergy bits with brash ice. Guests were bursting to get off the ship, and off we went in the zodiacs to Rosamel Island. The icebergs are veritable sculptures, each one unique and gorgeous beyond words. With the temperature at 37 degrees Fahrenheit (three degrees Celsius), there were many cracks and pops of icebergs breaking and rolling over. We picked glass-like black ice out of the water and imagined placing it in our drinks.

Over lunchtime, our guests enjoyed the southernmost barbecue in the world, on the pool deck and restaurant. The weather could not have been more perfect, and the guests were treated to penguins on the shoreline, preening themselves, walking in numbers and then entering the ocean.

This evening, a Marco Polo cocktail party was held for guests who have enjoyed five or more trips with A&K. The kitchen prepared magnificent snacks for the guests, who were thanked for their ongoing support of A&K. At recap, Rob Caskie shared the story of Swedish explorer Otto Nordenskjold, who explored this area onboard his ship Antarctica. The ship was crushed by Weddell Sea ice in 1903, just as Shackleton's would be 12 years later, and the crew’s story of survival is a true epic of struggle and triumph. In a lighter vein, Paul Carter presented a hilarious series of photographs of himself that a friend had prepared using a candid photograph and Photoshop. All in all, it had been a magnificent and unforgettable day in Antarctica.

18 December 2021 | Le Lyrial

After yesterday’s sublime weather, today saw low clouds, winds pumping and a rough sea as we came into Whaler's Bay in Deception Island. The captain steered Le Lyrial deftly through the very narrow Neptune's Bellows entrance into the water-filled caldera of Deception Island, and by 07.30 we were coming ashore by zodiac.

Many of us walked up to the viewpoint at Neptune's Window and enjoyed looking around what structures remain of Whaler's Bay. Kelp gulls’ nest on the old boilers, two chinstrap penguins put in a brief appearance and both a leopard and Weddell seal were seen lying on the sandy beach. Rob Caskie briefly explained the history of Deception Island, while back onboard, Rich Pagen presented a wonderful talk on the cetaceans (whales) of the Southern Ocean.

Over lunchtime, Le Lyrial repositioned to our afternoon destination, Half Moon Island, known to sealers as early as 1821. We enjoyed stretching our legs and taking in the beautiful Antarctic scenery. One couple renewed their wedding vows on the snow, dressed beautifully. The bride wore a long green dress while the groom was in a navy-blue suit, and all who attended thoroughly enjoyed the occasion.

Jim McClintock addressed the audience at recaps regarding Dr Schreiner's work at Palmer Station, where A&K Philanthropy has donated a large new krill net for ongoing research on the effects of climate change. Finally, Marco outlined plans for tomorrow at Portal Point and Wilhelmina Bay — sadly, our last day in Antarctica.

December 19, 2021 | Le Lyrial

On a calm sea under low overhanging cloud cover, we stopped at Portal Point and were treated to another glorious Antarctic morning. A short zodiac detour was arranged en route back to the ship, and this really was a most becoming and appropriate final landing.

Back onboard, Rob Caskie told the story of Scott's journey to the South Pole, a litany of errors and preparation that ended in tragedy, with none of Scott's party of five making it back from the pole alive.

Our afternoon location, Wilhelmina Bay, is often called Whale-mina Bay, since it is rich in krill and attracts our blubbery friends. Crabeater seals were hauled out upon the sea ice in abundance, and gentoo penguins regularly shot out onto the ice before diving back into the sea. Sadly, whales were not to be seen, probably avoiding the area since sea ice does not make their breathing requirements easy. We enjoyed the traditional A&K champagne stop alongside the sea ice. Some guests commented that they had seen it all when a large avalanche came plummeting off the mountains. It was spectacular, and really contributed to an utterly appropriate final outing on this voyage.

Rob Caskie began a hilarious night of recaps with the story of whisky found beneath Shackleton's Nimrod Hut in 2007. One of the ‘Up in the Air’ group then mimicked Marco, Russ and Suzana impeccably — it was marvellous. Patri gave her quite inimitable presentation on the red-jacket albatross using our present guests as extras and brought the house down. After dinner, the crew band played for guests in the main lounge. We entered the Drake at midnight, with what thankfully appeared to be a calmer crossing ahead of us.

20 December 2021 | Le Lyrial

This morning as we transited the Drake Passage, Michelle presented a session on how to best edit photographs.

The guests loved the tips and instruction from a real-life expert.

Marco and Patri presented Seabird Conservation in Fisheries, a project very close to their hearts. Seabirds view fishing ships as easy food sources, and most nations do not exercise nearly enough care to avoid the deaths of seabirds as a result of fishing activity.

Rob Caskie presented Lesser-Known Antarctic Heroes, an overview about men like Wilson, Bowers, Cherry-Garrard, Crean, Lashly, Mawson and Wild. These men's stories are easily as remarkable as the better-known figures who made up Heroic Age of Polar Exploration. We spoke about books like The Worst Journey in the World by Cherry-Garrard, Endurance by Caroline Alexander, and The Home of the Blizzard by Douglas Mawson. Captain Duroussy kindly enabled bridge visits, and guests loved the opportunity to visit the hallowed sanctum on board Le Lyrial.

Jim, Reed and Russ gave the guests some insights into life and adventures in Antarctica from their own perspectives in the final afternoon lecture. Russ talked about ice being dangerous, being prepared down here, and Antarctica being a living continent in need of protection. The captain's farewell dinner, where all the ship's staff are introduced to the guests, was wonderful as always. On a gently rolling ocean, we proceeded towards Ushuaia.

21 December 2021 | Le Lyrial

We have had some challenging weather conditions, particularly wind, and last night in the Drake was bumpy, as was the bulk of the morning. The movie Around Cape Horn was screened, in which Captain Irving Johnson sails the massive bark ‘Peking’ around Cape Horn, the infamous tip of South America.

The expedition team received all the rented expedition gear, and Paul Carter gave an important briefing for the guests in anticipation of tomorrow’s disembarkation, always a busy time for guests and crew. The wonderful Studio Ponant video was screened, available for purchase by the guests.

Reed Scherer presented a talk on Paleoclimatology & Policy: Is What's Past Prologue? And yes, it was as complex as the title. Jim McClintock followed with a lively presentation about diving in Antarctica. Climbing through a hole dynamited in two metres of ice and lowering oneself into water at -1-degree Celsius leads to a magical experience and wonderland beneath the ice.

By mid-afternoon, we were in sight of land. As the ocean calmed, we waited for the pilot to guide us down the 241-kilometre Beagle Channel to Ushuaia, through scenery easily as wonderful as places like Norway and New Zealand.

Marine biologist Rich Pagen went to great lengths in creating a video/slide show of the journey for our guests. This was shown at evening recaps to rapturous applause. Our battered pennant off the front of the ship was then auctioned to raise money for the Crew Fund, which assists crew members when emergencies arise, and £5,100 was raised — a stellar effort. We hope that these guests return home as ambassadors for Antarctica and find that "those little white voices” keep calling them back.